Sorrow to Barcelona, that wonderfully exquisite and usually-peaceful little city.
Is it not curious how human wickedness seeks out an equal but opposite wickedness to partner with as an enemy? There is essentially no substantive difference between the ideologies of ISIS and those of the so-called white-supremacists and neo-Nazis. Both identify an infidel, an “other” who needs to be obliterated in order that the faithful can thrive. Neither have any connection with the religions they purport to promote; and neither major religion wants any connection with them. I find the term “neo-Nazis” as malapropos as “neo-murderers” would be, or even “neo-idiots”. They are Nazis plain and simple, proponents of a poisonous doctrine – it can scarcely merit the title “ideology” – based upon a specious “racial science”, but really rooted in primal fears and hatreds still secreted deep in the old reptile brain. Like ISIS, their acts and atrocities – with apologies to Hannah Arendt – can hardly be called “banal”, even if their leading figures are ludicrously lacking in appeal, reason and character. We all hope that Adolf Hitler will remain the greatest monster in human history, although he is certainly never wanting for would-be rivals. We all hope that the Holocaust will remain the greatest single crime in history – and much evidence suggests that it will. Yet these pockets of gross iniquity are still with us. How to deal with them?
You get caught for unpaid taxes; you get caught for the fines on traffic tickets; deadbeat dads are regularly hauled in and squeezed dry. So why is it so hard to track down the braying voices on toxic websites and in foul, self-serving chatrooms, tweets or sundry blabbers? The answer is that it isn’t – or it wouldn’t be, if more resources were thrown behind it, using top coders, hackers, or whatever they are to chivvy out from their cyber-lairs these cowardly mini-monsters and bring them to justice. If a few laws have to be changed to do it – then why not? Such people recognize no one else’s rights; ergo they can be permitted no rights of their own. Freedom of speech is not an absolute (you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, as the law books say, if there is no fire), so you ought not be able to spout racio-religious hatred with impunity. Indeed, you ought not be able knowingly to promote any lie at all. It is not difficult these days to determine what “knowingly” is. And one lie that badly needs to be demolished is the idea of race itself. Studies of the human genome have shown that it is identical in all humans, whether they’re from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas or indigenous Australia. In short, there is no such thing as race; there are merely adaptive changes in appearance caused by long centuries in differing climes and under vastly varied circumstances. So racial prejudice is literally nonsensical – as nonsensical and inhumane as the class distinctions to which, in varying ways and modes, we still so ardently cling.
Yet instead of buckling down to the real problem at hand, we in the liberal democracies choose to throw sops to those who complain of inequities. Although the dismantling of a statue representing Robert E. Lee in Charlotteville cannot be said to be the real cause of disturbances there, it was certainly a lightning rod for them. We had a similar issue in Canada, with the shrouding of Cornwallis in a Halifax park. More such lamely inappropriate gestures are evidently planned for various other monuments to the supposedly now-ignoble in other US cities – and no doubt these will incite more unrest. I have a problem with history being occluded, swept under the carpet in this way. For a start, Robert E. Lee was a great general who fought nobly for the Confederacy (having been asked by President Lincoln to lead the northern armies – a post he refused since Virginia was his home state). Secondly, the American Civil War initially had nothing to do with slavery or the rights of black Americans. Lincoln only made this connection when the frightfully bloody conflict drew to a close and it had better have been about something more important than territory (and of course blacks were subsequently treated no better in the north). So there was in fact no tangible reason to take down a statue of Lee. Admittedly, Cornwallis in Halifax is a far less savory character, yet he did still found the city – an historical fact that no occlusion can deny. He has a place in the local culture. He also, for his bad, put a bounty on the heads of Mic-Mac Indians. I suggested to the city that, instead of hiding the statue, they hire an indigenous artist, like Kent Monkman, or a Mic-Mac, to add something to the monument that would convey the suffering caused by Cornwallis. But no, the sculpture still stands under its tarpaulin, in effect offending everyone. I don’t think many Haligonians condone what Cornwallis is notorious for doing, yet I do know that many are attached to their history because it is their history. These monuments ought not be hidden – indeed they can’t be in reality – but they can be added to or embellished in the light of new realities. This is especially to be considered now when their destruction or occlusion rouses up the kind of primeval sentiments that result in death and injury. Imagine what would happen if a tribute to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed was ordered to be destroyed. We need to be rooting out the hateful and educating the rest, not baiting them with fresh provocations. Do try to enjoy the rest of your summer.
Paul William Roberts